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August 13, 08

NEWS / Teaching the Teachers Helps Kids Read in Latin America

Teaching the Teachers Helps Kids Read in Latin America

U.S. presidential initiative is achievement of 2001 Summit of the Americas

By Natalia Capel
Staff Writer

Washington -- By improving the quality of education for teachers in several Latin American regions, a program is improving children’s reading capabilities.

Centers of Excellence for Teacher Training (CETT) primarily trains teachers from schools in poor urban and rural areas to reach children who are less likely to attain literacy during their early primary school years. The intervention aims to break the cycle of poverty.

The program hopes to help countries throughout the hemisphere promote equal opportunity among their citizens and greater economic competitiveness in traditionally disadvantaged areas.

The centers in the Western Hemisphere have developed a comprehensive in-service teacher training program and trained more than 20,000 teachers to give 600,000 underprivileged students a better education.

President Bush proposed the CETT during the 2001 Summit of the Americas, pledging $20 million for a four-year program. This pledge has been surpassed, with the program extended and additional funds given by U.S. Agency for International Development and the private sector, bringing the total contribution to date to $53 million.

Activities are implemented through three regional centers based in Jamaica (English-speaking Caribbean Region), Honduras (Central America and Dominican Republic) and Peru (Andean Region).

CETT trains teachers with the most effective reading and writing teaching methods to improve student literacy in grades one through three. The centers have introduced international best practices for a more child-centered and interactive approach to teaching that has proven to increase children’s learning.

The ministries of education of many participating countries endorse CETT. In many cases, the centers offer the first formal training in literacy education to teachers and provide appropriate materials for schools that have minimal infrastructure and supplies.

Local pedagogical universities and institutions are organized into regional consortia where education specialists are trained so they, in turn, can provide training to participating elementary school teachers in a yearlong program. Trainers also visit teachers in their classrooms to provide ongoing coaching and support.

Natalia Alfaro and Blanca Franco are two CETT-trained teachers who teach first grade in the poorest urban areas of Lima, Peru.

For Alfaro, the training has resulted in a “methodological and strategic change.” She says that it is the new teaching techniques’ “focus on the child’s communication development” that helps her students “learn to read faster and better” than before.

Because this marginalized urban population has been saddled by low expectations, even CETT teachers have been surprised to discover how much their students can achieve.

“I never expected that my students’ results would improve so much. I thought that the results I had before were good, but when I started with the CETT program, all of my mental frameworks were changed,” said Alfaro.

She said that a more dynamic classroom helps to make reading more fun for students, and they stay in school and want to learn more.

Last year, CETT and Scholastic Inc. teamed up to provide participating schools with 118,885 books to fill classroom libraries. “These books are very important to optimize our students’ reading performance because they don’t have access to books at home,” said Franco.

“When my students finish their class work they can choose a book from our classroom library to read during their free time as a reward,” Alfaro said.

Both Alfaro and Franco point out that the supportive classroom environment that they have learned to promote helps students’ self-esteem and students speak more, write more and express themselves better at school and at home.

The CETT program is also improving parent involvement -- often absent in underprivileged schools -- through parent workshops, regular parent-teacher meetings and community-school events.

“We’re close to our goal of achieving 60 percent of students reading above their grade level,” said Joan Spencer-Ernandez, Caribbean CETT testing and measurement specialist in the University of the West Indies.

According to Spencer-Ernandez, the Caribbean centers have trained 95 percent of teachers enrolled in the program to create a unified set of tests and classroom materials that are culturally relevant for the Caribbean region. The Caribbean centers propose that ministries of education and pedagogic colleges incorporate these standards to their methodologies and curricula.

In the Central American and Dominican Republic CETT, for example, trained teachers to validate all of the didactic guides, teaching materials and training modules that the technical teams develop to ensure that they meet the special needs of their students.

A recent qualitative study by JBS International, which provides evaluation technical support for the CETT project, reports that the training corps created by CETT is a force for change that did not exist before in most affected countries.

For instance, Alfaro and Franco are among 43 teachers in Peru whose performance qualifies them to receive further preparation as teacher trainers themselves. This will multiply the number of skilled teachers in the country.

“Teachers are recognizing that CETT training is contributing to their professional development; doors have opened for them,” said training coordinator for the Andean CETT, Danilo de la Cruz.



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